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Care Flight Celebrates 40 Years



Over the past four decades, Care Flight has provided emergency medical services for more than 91,000 patients over the span of 50,000 square miles of Nevada and California. More than 84,000 of those patients have been transferred by helicopter, 4,000 by fixed wing and 3,000 by critical care ground transport. With each decade comes a new era of history and a substantial impact to emergency care in the northern Nevada and California communities. 

In celebration of Care Flight’s 40 years of responding #WhenItMattersMost, check out the timeline below to see just a selection of some of the impact the first helicopter emergency medical services in the West has had. 

  • In 1980, Reno was rapidly growing, as were it’s healthcare needs. Saint Mary’s Hospital and Washoe Medical Center (now known as Renown Health) were both actively pursuing the establishment of a helicopter emergency transport service. Washoe Medical Center hired Jane Miller, the founder of Care Flight and first Assistant Chief Flight Nurse at Flight for Life. 
  • Jane recruited Maggie Tole, fellow flight nurse at Flight For Life, to assist with starting the program and training nurses. 
  • Saint Mary’s Hospital and Washoe Medical Center agreed to share one aircraft, which rotated patient hospital destinations on a weekly basis and was the first-ever joint air ambulance venture formed between two hospitals. 
  • The first cooperative patient flight took place on July 1, 1981 and in September 1981, the name was officially changed to Care Flight. Jane was named the first Director of Nursing and Chief Flight Nurse. 
  • By 1985, Care Flight became the single busiest helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) in the United States. Likewise, Nevada became the first state in the nation to not restrict a flight nurse’s practice because they were not certified paramedics. 
  • The Alouette III was Care Flight’s first aircraft. Designed for use in the French Alps with high altitude capability and a small footprint – it worked well for Care Flight’s response area.
  • In the mid-1980s, Washoe County had no unified ground emergency medical services program. The three existing ambulance providers that served the area had frequent conflicts over delayed or overlapping responses. Washoe County Health District made the decision to franchise the grounds ambulance service provider under the direction and control of a single entity through an interlocal agreement with the City of Sparks, the City of Reno and Washoe County. This led to the formation of REMSA Health, a nonprofit, public-utility model that to this day does not receive taxpayer money and is the parent company of Care Flight.
  • By 1989, Care Flight had become the first HEMS in the nation to be self-supporting and financially independent. 
  • That same year, Care Flight added an Emergency Medical Technician to form a two-crew member configuration. 
  • In 1995, Care Flight became the first organization in the air medical industry to purchase its own aircraft – a McDonald Douglas 900 Explorer. 
  • By 1999, the Care Flight crew evolved to a flight nurse and a flight paramedic. 
  • As the demand for critical care transport grew, so did Care Flight. It sold the MD 900 Explorer to US Parks for use in the Grand Canyon in November 2003, where it continues to fly today. 
  • Maggie Tole moved into the role of Director and Vice President of Care Flight in July of 2000. She established the Care Flight catchphrase “When It Matters Most” and continued her leadership role and worked as a flight nurse until she retired in 2015. 
  • Today, Care Flight operates two rotor wing bases in rural Nevada and two rotor wing bases in rural California. In addition, it has a fixed wing base at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and a ground Critical Care Transport unit based in Reno, Nev. 
  • Care Flight staff has grown to 27 flight nurses and 14 paramedics. 
  • In partnership with Plumas District Hospital, Care Flight also operates an advanced life support ground ambulance program in rural Plumas County, California. 

The past 40 years have brought tremendous growth and countless changes for Care Flight. This once small, single-aircraft flight program staffed by one nurse and one pilot has expanded into a thriving, comprehensive air and ground critical care transport program serving an 11-state western region with a reputation for clinical excellence and collaboration.


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